Boko Haram recaptures key town in northeast Nigeria

A man walks by a tank left by Boko Haram militants between Michika and Marabara, two cities recaptured from Boko Haram by the Nigeria military early this year, on May 10, 2015 (AFP Photo/Emmanuel Arewa)

Maiduguri (Nigeria) (AFP) - Boko Haram Islamists have recaptured the strategic town of Marte in northeastern Nigeria's restive Borno state, a regional official said early on Saturday.

"It is sad as we have been made to understand that Marte has today completely fallen under the control of the insurgents, which to us is a very huge setback," said Mustapha Zannah, vice governor of the Borno state.

The town, located along a strategic trading route between Nigeria and neighbouring Cameroon and Chad, has traded hands between the jihadists and government troops numerous times since 2013.

A regional military coalition of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon has claimed a series of major victories against Boko Haram since launching sweeping offensives against the jihadists in February.

But the Islamist fighters, who recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State extremists who have captured swathes of Iraq and Syria, have been pushing back.

The jihadists killed at least 55 people in two raids on villages near Maiduguri, the first assault on the northern city in three months.

"Even if 90 percent of our communities have been liberated, the war is not yet over," Zannah cautioned early on Saturday.

Boko Haram's six-year insurgency has claimed 15,000 lives and displaced about 1.5 million people.